The deck was stacked against the No. 15 Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team Friday night in Salt Lake City.
The Skyhawks played their fourth game in eight days, with the last two ending with overtime victories at home. But FLC had a long road trip to face a tough Westminster College team with nothing to lose and everything to win.
FLC looked fatigued and struggled on both ends of the floor, especially in the game’s final 10 minutes, as the Griffins secured a 90-75 victory. It was the second consecutive year Westminster has picked up a home win against the Skyhawks. Westminster, in its final transition year from an NAIA institution to NCAA Division II, is ineligible for postseason play but is a team worthy of a top-25 ranking if it was eligible, FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said.
“It’s a tough trip,” Pietrack said. “They’re a very good team and they played very well tonight. We didn’t play our best. Credit them, they were the fresher team and played like it.”
FLC (8-2, 5-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) trailed 43-39 at halftime after strong play to close out the half. The Skyhawks took a lead 48-47 with 14 minutes, 19 seconds to play. The lead was as big as 50-47 behind some solid play from Riley Farris, but Westminster went on a solid run and jumped out to a 74-64 lead with less than five minutes to play.
“Just the last 10 minutes of the game, we were exhausted,” Pietrack said. “I gotta do a better job playing more guys and try to keep legs fresh. The grueling grind of the RMAC sometimes catches up with you, and we ran into a really good team.”
FLC cut the Griffins’ advantage to 74-68 but couldn’t get any closer. Jared Laws was awarded a rare five-point play opportunity after he buried a 3-pointer and was fouled after the shot. The referees gave him two free throws, and he made both to make the Westminster lead 80-69 with 3:44 to play, and the gamer was effectively out of reach.
“It was a tough night all the way around,” Pietrack said.
FLC was led by the 18 points from senior guard Daniel Hernandez, who was 4-of-10 shooting from the field but went 9-of-9 from the foul line. He added five rebounds and five assists. Riley Farris scored 14 points off the bench on 5-of-8 shooting. He also had four rebounds. Marquel Beasley finished with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and also had four rebounds. Rasmus Bach finished with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including 0-of-5 from behind the 3-point line.
DJ Miles started the game 2-for-2 from behind the 3-point line for FLC but finished 2-of-7 shooting for six points. Brandon Wilson led the team in rebounding with six, and he also had six points.
Sam Orchard had a big night for Westminster with 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He went 3-of-4 from 3 and 7-of-8 from the foul line. He also had eight assists and five rebounds. Westminster star Dayon Goodman had 24 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. Mason Smith added 15 points, and four rebounds and Quincy Bair had 10 points and four assists.
“The Goodman kid is unbelievable inside,” Pietrack said. “He’s so quick and really hurt us. I thought that was the difference of the game. We tried to overcompensate for Goodman, and then Orchard had a career night. Sometimes in sports you tip your cap and move on.”
FLC will be back home at 7:30 p.m. Monday to host a Northern New Mexico team it already owns a 95-81 home win over this year as well as a 96-82 road win in an FLC exhibition game.
Westminster (8-1, 4-1 RMAC) will come to Durango on Feb. 24 in the final regular season game of the year in a game sure to have big implications for FLC in the RMAC standings and conference championship race.
“Life on the road in a competitive league, there’s no one going undefeated on the road,” Pietrack said. “We will get home, get better and play five straight games at home. It’s time to protect the Whalen and move on.”